DH cropLabour Hame editor Duncan Hothersall says last night’s debate put Labour principles up against SNP calculations, and principles won.

 

It was a confident Kezia Dugdale who stood at the podium last night. And the calm, clear expression of how Labour wants to change Scotland for the better contrasted sharply with the calculated posing and somewhat harried demeanour of her opponent, Nicola Sturgeon.

There were four others on the stage, of course, but really this was the Kez vs Nic show. And it was notable that the former looked much more at ease than the latter throughout which, when you consider their respective positions in the polls, is quite something.

The contrast we saw on stage was, I think, largely the result of how comfortable each leader feels expressing the positions of their party. For Nicola this election campaign is a series of tricky compromises trying to keep her electoral coalition together: enough independence talk to retain the hardcore Yessers, but enough realism for those able to see that that ship has sailed; enough left-wing posing to keep on-side those who bought into the false image of a progressive SNP, but enough right-wing action to keep the wealthy ticking the nationalist box.

In contrast, Kezia has, since becoming Scottish Labour leader, united the party around a policy platform everyone is proud of, and one which has been setting the terms of the political debate for months. Also, to be blunt, she’s starting from such low polling that the weight of expectation is limited, all of which has freed her to find a real Labour voice again.

On top of all that, much of last night’s debate focused on taxation, and Labour has a clear, straightforward fair tax policy that is resonating incredibly well with voters across the country. Meanwhile the SNP desperately tries to look both ways, appeasing the rich and claiming we have no choice but to embrace austerity, and ends up only looking unconvincing.

How clear was it in Nicola’s anguished vacillation over the 50p tax rate that her policy to oppose it less than a year after endorsing it is based on compromise with right-wing colleagues, not her own principles? And how depressing to see, yet again, the end-point of an SNP demand for powers is for them to refuse to use them now they have them?

Here’s Kezia nailing that point last night:

There was another very telling moment in last night’s debate, and that one didn’t involve either Kezia or Nicola, but rather the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson. On the topic of what we now all seem to call welfare (I prefer the term social security) Ruth attempted the sleight of hand which has served her so well in recent years – the pretence that her Tory party isn’t the same one that is slashing benefits and public spending across the UK.

Of course it is the same party, and for all Ruth likes to posture otherwise, she endorsed George Osborne’s cuts, she backed their ideological small state vandalism, and she is part of the marginalisation of the poor and the sick for which this Tory government is responsible. So, like many others I suspect, I gasped when she pretended otherwise, and I was very glad other panellists didn’t let her get away with it.

Patrick Harvie, as ever, had a decent night. But it’s difficult to see why a voter keen to stop fracking or have fairer taxes would choose Green over Labour. Willie Rennie started reasonably well but the Lib Dems have a long way to go to recover credibility and it showed in the latter stages. And the least said about David Coburn the better.

The critical debate last night was between Labour and the SNP. And the key dividing line from last night is the key dividing line in this election: faced with a choice to continue Tory austerity or use our powers to reverse it, Labour will use our powers. Kezia Dugdale put that across confidently and clearly. And increasing numbers of Scots are realising that Labour’s answer is the right one.